Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, is confident that the Ministry’s implementation of a three-pronged programme of assistance, valued at over $200 million, will assist the banana industry to recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy last month.
Speaking at the signing of a $100 million Banana Resuscitation Loan Programme Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), at the Ministry’s Hope Gardens offices in St. Andrew on November 13, Mr. Clarke said he is optimistic that this undertaking, coupled with other activities, “will go a far way in helping to revive the banana industry."
The Minister said this include the European Union’s (EU) contribution amounting to over €1 million, and payments totalling $7 million, which are earmarked for disbursement to farmers under the Banana Industry Catastrophe Fund programme.
Under the Banana Resuscitation Loan Programme, loans totalling some $100 million, provided by the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), will be disbursed to farmers in the banana producing parishes hardest hit by the hurricane – Portland, St. Mary, and St. Thomas.
The Ministry has lent assistance to this undertaking through the provision of some $13.5 million to facilitate a reduction of the interest rate on the loans, being chanelled through the People’s Co-operative (PC) Bank, from 8.5 per cent to five per cent.
“One hundred million dollars is not the cost to resuscitate the banana industry, but we believe the loan facility is a substantial contribution,” Mr. Clarke said.
Additionally, he pointed out that the Ministry has negotiated grant funding totalling $13.5 million with the EU, under its Banana Support Programme, to provide fertilizers to farmers.
“This is significant, as some farmers may not have the means, the capability or collateral to access the loans. The EU funding will take care of some of those farmers who can’t access the loans,” he assured, while adding that some $7 million is earmarked for payouts from the Catastrophe Fund, to farmers in eastern parishes.
While welcoming these inputs, Mr. Clarke said they are “a mere drop in the bucket” of what is required to achieve sustainable economic viability within the banana industry.
“The Government of Jamaica’s country strategy is aimed at increasing banana production to some 120,000 tonnes in the medium term. This strategy includes programmes of activities currently being undertaken with EU and Government of Jamaica funding. This takes the form of institutional support to the All Island Banana Growers Association (AIBGA), valued at approximately €200,000, and technical support valued at €650,000, to the Banana Board. These programmes end in January and March of 2013, respectively,” he informed.
The Minister also cited a three-year Banana Accompanying Measures Programme, valued at €4.73 million, which is scheduled to begin in March 2013, following the culmination of the country strategy.
Mr. Clarke said that banana farmers have always been “major contributors” to their recovery, and underscored the need for their inputs to complement the latest recovery efforts.
“I have no doubt that we will rebound from this setback, and place the banana industry, once again, on a firm footing. And, I am confident that the banana industry will rise again, like the Phoenix from the ashes, and play its role in the growth and development of the agricultural sector and the economy of Jamaica,” the Minister emphasised.